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Saturday, Aug 30, 2014

Don’t punish Woodard for residency

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Published:

In the sports world, an interim coach sometimes gets to become the head guy if he proves himself worthy of the job during the limited time he has. In Pinellas, however, a proven employee may be prevented from getting such an opportunity because of where he lives. You see, Mark Woodard, who is married to former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, lives in Hillsborough County. Even though he has worked for Pinellas for 26 years, 13 of them as an assistant county administrator, he may have to move across Tampa Bay to get the head coaching position.

Many municipalities and counties have residency requirements for employment based on the belief that one should pay taxes to the same place that pays your salary, which literally makes employees vested members of their communities. There’s also the view, particularly in smaller towns, that some workers, especially those involved in public safety, shouldn’t disappear just because their shift ends.

But if Pinellas had such a requirement, Woodard would have never been able to get his job in the first place. For more than two decades he has shown he cares about the county and its residents, and it would be a shame if where he lives prevents him from becoming county administrator if he desires it. It would be a glass ceiling based on residency.

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And let’s not forget that thousands of Pinellas residents voted for a congressional candidate who had only established residence there a few months before the special election to replace the late C.W. Bill Young.

Pinellas is not like the fictional county where Sheriff Andy Taylor lived on “The Andy Griffith Show.” If Andy had lived in nearby Mount Pilot instead of Mayberry, he wouldn’t have been able to respond to a break in at Wally’s filling station, or shoplifting at Weaver’s department store. He was pretty much on duty 24 hours a day, and living in town was a necessity.

Still, residency requirements, even symbolic ones like the Woodard case, are not without controversy, and why many public service employees unions oppose them. It even could be argued that it amounts to housing discrimination, since it limits where one can reside. It also can determine where your children go to school.

That’s why some states have banned residency laws. In 1999, the Michigan legislature, with the enthusiastic support of then-Gov. John Engler, passed a statute barring 91 towns from requiring their employees to live there. All workers have to do is reside within 20 miles of a city’s border. So it became possible to live in Ohio and still work for the city of Detroit.

Simply put, society’s dynamics have changed from when residency requirements first became law. There are many more dual-income households, divorces involving shared custody of children. In a county such as Pinellas, which has 24 municipalities, residency requirements would be a burden for many.

So when Pinellas commissioners meet next week to discuss the county’s next administrator, they shouldn’t eliminate Woodard from consideration because he happens to live in an adjacent county. They should ask themselves if his moving to Pinellas would in any way affect his job performance.

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